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Essay

How the TMT reproduces sexual violence

What do rapists like Brock Turner or Harvey Weinstein have to do with the Thirty-Meter Telescope? They are deeply intertwined.

in Thirty-Meter Telescope

As a straight, cis settler of Korean and European ancestry who has never been a victim of sexual violence I do not have nearly as much kuleana and knowledge to lead on issues of sexual violence as survivors, women, the LGBTQ community, feminist scholars, and activists.  We must align our work and lives around what they have shown to be pono. What understanding I have regarding these issues is attributable to the work of scholar-activists like Haunani-Kay Trask and Angela Davis, local groups like Women’s Voices, Women Speak, and many more amazing people. Because I, like all of us men, have in some way contributed to rape culture, and because I wish to see the end of all suffering and oppression, I do have kuleana to the undoing of sexual violence, misogyny and patriarchy. 


In many ways the Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT) is a manifestation of and monument to sexual violence and rape culture. While these two issues may seem distant—what do rapists like Brock Turner or Harvey Weinstein have to do with the TMT?—they are deeply intertwined.

We must think of justice for victims of sexual violence in terms of culture and decolonization, and more than just toppling of evil men who commit sexual violence. Our actions must show an awareness of how patriarchy and misogyny are reproduced in everyday life—rape culture. We settlers in Hawai‘i must recognize how this fight against patriarchy and misogyny is dependent on the undoing of the very settler colonialism that brought us here. 

Sexual violence does not occur in a vacuum but rather requires rape culture to function and become normalized within a society. The most obvious examples of rape culture are the physical crimes themselves. But rape culture also exists unnoticed within seemingly innocent, everyday elements of our culture: the adorkable misogynists of the sitcom The Big Bang Theory, the lyrics to “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” locker room talk, your uncle saying some woman on the news needs to lose weight. Every example of misogyny and patriarchy adds up to a pervasive culture and way of thinking that teaches men we are superior to women, that we can do anything to them without repercussions. The prevalence of this culture enables the widespread sexual violence being exposed by the #metoo movement to have existed for centuries.

Sexual violence also occurs on spiritual, emotional, and mental levels. When we have consensual sex we are at our most vulnerable. We share with our partner our naked bodies, thoughts, feelings, and most intimate spaces—bed, bedroom, home. To have consensual sex with a someone is to trust them. No wonder survivors speak of mental, emotional, and spiritual trauma long after the crime was committed. 

Sexual violence and rape culture are very much about establishing power and control. Colonized and oppressed peoples have long suffered at the hand of this power. Colonialism uses sexual violence just like it does the gun to control and alter minds and bodies—there is a reason why the term is rape and pillage. This is partially why everywhere the U.S. Empire goes so goes rape culture and sexual violence: Native American lands during westward expansion, Philippines, Okinawa, Vietnam. With the TMT we see the United States and the settler-state elite unconsciously (maybe even consciously) wielding this power. 

The building of the TMT is a non-consensual violation of the Hawaiian body, mind, and spirit that falls in line with the U.S. history of sexual violence. In her piece “Our Body, Our Land” Professor Emalani Case makes this lack of consent clear when discussing the U.S. military presence at Pohakuloa. Case says, “we did not give our consent and we never will,” and that “violence against our land is violence against us.” Resistance shown by Hawaiians to the building of the TMT also represents this absent consent. Settlers must remember that Native Hawaiians trace their ancestry to Papa, who literally is the ‘āina and part of Hawaiians’ genealogy. Because of these genealogical ties to the ‘āina, the non-consensual violation of the ‘āina is a non-consensual violation of the Hawaiian body. 

Despite the constant ‘a‘oles seen and heard from kia‘i and aloha ‘āina, the TMT attempts to push forward. Apparently for the TMT Corporation, State of Hawai‘i, University of Hawai‘i, scholars whose research requires the TMT, and general supporters of the TMT, no means yes. For a university whose own survey recently confirmed a significant problem with sexual violence, telling the entire world that no means yes indicates the UH administration and State of Hawai‘i have little interest in achieving or understanding what is just or what is pono. 

The TMT and the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope planned for Haleakalā also perpetuate and even valorize rape culture through the memorialization, endorsements and deep connections to accused rapist and sexual harasser Dan Inouye. While Senator Inouye may have done positive work for some communities in Hawai‘i, thanks to the courage of Inouye’s hairdresser and others like Kristin Gillibrand the public is now aware of Inouye’s ugly previous actions and behavior towards women. Much can be understood about a culture and society based upon who and what gets remembered or memorialized. Considering Inouye’s alleged history of sexual violence and support of U.S. militarism and colonialism in Hawai‘i, what does the memorialization of Inouye tell about the values of the State of Hawai‘i, especially our ruling economic and political elites? Is sexual violence something any society should memorialize?

There are also the obvious connections to rape culture: the TMT is a massive phallic monument to be positioned atop the Native Hawaiian piko, physically symbolizing sexual conquest, white supremacy and colonialism.

Often indigenous scholars or activists invoke rape to describe colonialism and imperialism. This invocation is far more than metaphorical, but also evidenced in historical, emotional, spiritual and physical realities of colonialism. As Hawai‘i and humanity more broadly continue into the future, we must consider all the ways we perpetuate evil ideologies and actions, including through the sciences and the academy.

The building of the TMT is wrong on many levels, the most obvious being the dissent of Native Hawaiians. But we must also consider the more veiled connections such a building has to rape culture and sexual violence. 

Not building the TMT represents the future, one where humanity demonstrates its realization and undoing of the wrongs of colonialism, institutionalized white supremacy, and rape culture. We cannot achieve justice for survivors of sexual violence by simply punishing their rapist or harasser. We must undo all of rape culture, especially its colonial forms.

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Hawaiian was even the official language of the Territory, circa 1903.